'Investigating the World of Polish Playwriting': Katarzyna Grajewska talks with Tadeusz Pajdała and Zbigniew Rudziński

Bajka o Rozczarowanym Rumaku Romualdzie/ Fairytale about Disappointed Romuald the Steed [photo Arch]

Bajka o Rozczarowanym Rumaku Romualdzie/ Fairytale about Disappointed Romuald the Steed [photo Arch]

Investigating  the World

Katarzyna Grajewska talks with Tadeusz  Pajdała and Zbigniew Rudziński about contemporary playwriting in Poland.

Reprinted, with permission, from Teatr Lalek magazine, nr 4/110/2012

Katarzyna Grajewska, Photo Z. Radkowski

Katarzyna Grajewska, Photo Z. Radkowski

In Raport o stanie polskiego teatru dla dzieci i młodzieży 1989–2003, published by the Children's Art Centre in Poznań (2005), Tadeusz Pajdała and Zbigniew Rudziński, authors of the chapter entitled: Repertuar i dramatopisarstwo (Repertory and playwriting), drew attention to, i.a. the still unsatisfactory level of texts serving as a point of departure for constructing spectacles intended for children and adolescents. They listed excessive numbers of on-the-spot conceived scenarios and adaptations, rather thoughtlessly neglected classics, literature from past epochs, and no longer topical themes and form. This state of things was, however, followed by certain changes in the repertoire of the puppet theatre. There appeared plays by contemporary authors, predominantly texts by acknowledged playwrights – Maciej Wojtyszko, Joanna Kulmowa, Liliana Bardijewska, Anna Onichimowska, as well as Izabela Degórska and Michał Walczak, including texts that appeared at a Competition organised since 1986 by the Children's Art Centre. This event, essential for the theatrical milieu and pertaining to plays addressed to the young audience, is the topic of a conversation held by Katarzyna Grajewska, literary director of the Teatr Animacji in Poznań, with Tadeusz Pajdała and Zbigniew Rudziński, members of the Competition jury for a theatrical play for children and adolescents

Katarzyna Grajewska: What were the beginnings of the Competition? 

Zbigniew Rudziński - Photo W. Nowak

Zbigniew Rudziński - Photo W. Nowak

Zbigniew Rudziński: At the time, 26 years ago, the children's theatre was outright irritating and all too familiar plays were shown for the hundredth consecutive time. An important breakthrough came with the appearance of such artists as Andrzej Maleszka, preceded by Krystyna Miłobędzka, in whose oeuvre the child became the object of the art of the theatre and no longer an insignificant element of artistic endeavours. Zbigniew Rudziński - Photo W. NowakThis subjective nature of the child was a foretaste of changes. Initially, the competition had a closed formula and 13 recognised and professional authors were invited to take part; they included, i.a.: Wanda Chotomska, Urszula Kozioł, Joanna Kulmowa, Danuta Wawiłow, Henryk Bardijewski, Józef Ratajczak, Jerzy Niemczuk and Maciej Zembaty. Meanwhile, a parallel competition was organized by ASSITEJ with the motto: “We're looking for a Polish Shakespeare”. For two years I read texts by young authors; hence the notion to invite young talented writers, older than the age group defined by the “Shakespeare” event but who still wanted to write. In this way, we gradually accepted the formula of an open competition.

K.G.: What sort of consequences did this formula entail? Who actually takes part in the Competition and what is the level of the texts?

Tadeusz Pajdała, Photo W. Nowak

Tadeusz Pajdała, Photo W. Nowak

Tadeusz Pajdała: The Competition attracts professional authors and amateurs, mainly teachers. Other contestants are university graduates, by no means exclusively those who studied the humanities, and secondary school pupils. Consequently, the sheer number of the proposed texts is very large and the level varies. Recently, we noticed a certain striving toward professionalism. Across the years, there emerged a group of authors who had mastered the difficult technique of the drama. A play written with children in mind must represent an efficient form and a wise theme. Children need a story that they can follow in the course of the spectacle. Tadeusz Pajdała, Photo W. NowakThe author, in turn, must seek such forms that will combine the story with essential issues pertaining to the child and his contacts with adults, peers and assorted elements of life and… death. The authors face a serious challenge and must overcome considerable difficulties so that the text might include all those elements: theme, plot, suitable construction and language. In the latest editions of the Competition, authors with greater experience and expertise combine those elements, providing the directors with an opportunity to create signs-communiqués rousing the emotions and intellect of the young spectator. Slowly, there appeared a group of authors meeting the norms of good playwriting, whose works, comprising a closed whole, can be staged by a capable theatre.

Z.R.: Quantity always contains a core of quality. The larger the number of texts, the greater the chance for discovering something of interest.  I would like to return to the beginnings of the Competition. Certain formal undertakings and regulations added by us influenced both what was written and the manner in which it was written. At the time of the Television Theatre for Children and Youth we invited to the jury its editor, Zbigniew Dzięgiel. The result was a considerable number of plays – about 30%! – with a film narration and written with television presentations in mind.

T.P.: Authors write in response to the existing demand. Once the Television Theatre was closed, proposals of this sort simply vanished and were replaced by texts written exclusively for the theatre.

Z.R.: Naturally, nothing can be regarded as definite but it seems that there exists a certain regularity: authors write to be staged. Dramatic theatres are almost uninterested in contemporary plays for the young audience, and thus proposals intended for them are relatively few. On the other hand, there are texts written in a new language that ignores the demands and potential of any sort of stage. Such texts are accepted by puppet theatres capable of showing much more than a realistic dialogue. It is excellent that authors are not particularly concerned whether featuring a given play might be difficult from the formal point of view. Consequently, the theatre is undergoing a metamorphosis. In the past, the dramatic theatre was altered by the writings of Mrożek and Różewicz. Today, we might say that contemporary authors exert a considerable impact on the way in which the children's and young people's theatre is envisaged.

K.G.: Are the currently written texts comparable to those by the authors you just mentioned? Have they taken part in the Competition?

T.P.: The proposed plays represent different qualities and respond to the present-day demands of the theatre. Noteworthy names are those of Robert Jarosz, Malina Prześluga, and earlier – Liliana Bardijewska, Krystyna Chołoniewska, Anna Onichimowska, Monika Milewska, Izabela Degórska, and Marta Guśniowska, who conquered the puppet theatre. Certainly, works by these authors are shown for several or perhaps even more than ten seasons. The plays relate to universal problems. Upon certain occasions, an author writing good texts produces one or two with superb form and meaning, and dealing with essential problems of the relationship between the child and the world…

Z.R.: …such as Bajka o szczęściu (Tale about Happiness) by Iza Degórska.

T.P.: The brilliant plays by Miłobędzka, however, seemed not to have survived and are rarely produced.

K.G.: But the value of the language, the structure of the text, and the manner of perceiving the child are undeniable…

T.P.: It is these values that return in new proposals by contemporary authors. Miłobędzka influenced the way theatrical artists think, making it possible to write plays intended for children and endowed with a more contemporary form.

K.G.: The artistic standard of texts taking part in the Competition is becoming increasingly better. More, we no longer speak about individual plays written by present-day authors but about the whole phenomenon of contemporary playwriting. Let us, therefore, talk about the undertakings that take place between successive editions of the Competition, since they affect the aboveoutlined situation. First and foremost, I have in mind the authors' Meetings held in Zaniemyśl …

The Smallest Ball in the World Photo: J Zagajewski

The Smallest Ball in the World Photo: J Zagajewski

Z.R.: Since 1994 they took place on Wyspa Edwarda in Zaniemyśl, sometimes twice a year due the great number of participants and demand; and for the two past years they are organised in Obrzycko. The Meetings were devised as a sui generis workshop intended for authors, an opportunity to meet members of the jury but also to talk to other authors. We wanted to get to know lovers of playwriting, to learn about the motives of their creative zeal, to confirm the sense and significance of writing for the theatre, to demonstrate the specificity, potential and limitations of the stage, and to render possible contact with recognised directors, authors, critics, stage designers and musicians. The Meetings proved to be highly inspiring. It is simply impossible at this point to list all guests, who included, i.e.: Joanna Kulmowa, Krystyna Miłobędzka, the psychologist Prof. Anna Brzezińska, professors of Polish philology: Marta Krasińska, Przemysław Czapliński, Ryszard K. Przybylski, Lech Śliwonik, as well as Krystian Lupa, Krzysztof Zanussi, Tadeusz Słobodzianek, Andrzej Maleszka, Piotr Trzaskalski, Piotr Łazarkiewicz, Paweł Passini, Piotr Kruszczyński, Jacek Ostaszewski, Jacek Zagajewski, and playwrights from Germany – Lutz Hübner and Ulrich Hub. I intentionally used the word “guests“, since the hosts of the workshops included members of the jury: Jan Skotnicki and Tadeusz Pajdała (the longest), Maciej Wojtyszko, Bogusław Kierc, Milan Kwiatkowski, Ernest Bryll, Maciej Prus, Jerzy Koenig,

The Smallest Ball in the World Photo: J Zagajewski Piotr Tomaszuk, Piotr Cieplak, and recently Paweł Aigner and Waldemar Raźniak. For many years, we have been also inviting the repertoire decision-makers – theatre directors, in order to make possible mutual exchanges and the establishment of cooperation with the authors.

T.P.: It is tremendously important that the Meetings involve also artists and creators-administrators, i.e. those who fulfil certain functions in the theatre and influence the repertoire. The outcome is thus a confrontation of authors and professionals. Playwrights find out about the demands of the latter and the manner in which they decipher the text. Other persons include theoreticians of literature, who situate the quests pursued by the authors writing for children and young people within the domain of more general tendencies. In the course of such discussions the participants become convinced about the merits of new texts. The encounters facilitate contacts between the author and the stage as well as between authors engaged in creative searches.

Z.R.: One of the participants was the director of the theatre in Wałbrzych, who met Malina Prześluga; their encounter immediately produced a premiere of Rumak Romuald (Fairytale about Disappointed Romuald the Steed) and a presentation of Malina's “new tales” read aloud. The director of the Teatr Dzieci Zagłębia in Będzin became so enthralled by Maciej Dużyński's Bajka-Zjajka read in the course of the workshops that he instantly “bought it”. Such meetings, each with a positive outcome in the form of world premieres, were much more numerous. I trust that in the future their number will be even greater.

T.P.: The author and, simultaneously, actor, and Piotr Cieplak, member of the jury and excellent director, read the play. This rendition demonstrated in an ostensibly simple text about a butterfly the complexity of bringing up a child and his departure from the family home.

K.G.: Zaniemyśl, and now Obrzycko, is the site of a meticulous honing of the workshop of the young (and I do not necessarily have in mind their age) playwrights and a valuable promotion of the plays, which are, at the same time, offered for sale.

T.P.: Let me give yet another example from Obrzycko.  A presentation of the texts by one of the competitors was followed by a discussion revealing that authors protested against the banal and shocking the audience with contemporaneity. They outright negated the play in question, claiming that it was devoid of all value. Authors are well aware of the fact that they cannot merely propose a captivating form, that plays addressed to children must be about SOMETHING and one cannot deceive the children! Their reaction was an example of sincere concern for the young spectator.

Z.R.: Meetings entail a dialogue and listening to each other. The foundation of the event is a conviction about the purposefulness of our ventures. As long as one believes in what is being done and remains patient, then after almost thirty years results shall be attained.

K.G.: But Meetings is not all …

Z.R.: There also exists a Reading Stage intended for adolescents. As rule, we select texts by young authors and Invite secondary school students from Poznań and usually also the playwright. This is the first confrontation of the text with the recipient, a test whether the themes are significant, authentically stir the young spectators, and pertain to important spheres of their life. Such theatrical readings make listening more attractive for young people, whose patience in dealings with the world is quite different.

Here are several titles of texts read aloud: Krystyna Chołoniewska's Zamknięta klasa (Closed Class)Poczekalnia(Waiting Room),Inka Dowlasz'sWakacje w Holandii (Holiday in Holland),Dupak (Ass) by Piotr Bulak, Szczurzysyn(Son-of-a-rat) and W brzuchu Wilka (In the Belly of a Wolf) by Robert Jarosz, Bingo by Piotr Rowicki, Pacamambo by Wajdi Mouawad, or Błąd 404 (Error 404) by the 17-years old Karolina Suchoń as well as several plays by Malina Prześluga.  Then there is the Author's Stage. The Children's Art Centre proposes texts, which we suspected – and correctly so – will not be shown by professional companies since they involve a great repertoire risk. This was so in the case of plays by Dorin and Bożena Borek's Rysunki na pamiątkę (Drawn Souvenirs), a poignant text about a dying child.

K.G.: A competition for a theatrical play for children and adolescents is exceptional among other events of this sort. Its idea, form, and course as well as the artists involved in the staging – all affected the emergence and development of contemporary Polish playwriting. The event played an important role and fulfilled its task – is it, therefore, still necessary? Is it still needed?

Z.R.: Perhaps the answer would be: no, if publishing houses were to receive dramatic texts. The Competition introduces a certain order and, I sincerely hope, effectively inspires. Everyone knows that it exists, and when, and this fact to a certain degree mobilizes the authors. The same holds true for the prizes, important for young playwrights. The most interesting works are published in “Nowe Sztuki dla Dzieci i Młodzieży”.

K.G.: Truly talented young artists will find their way to the stage anyhow…

T.P.: Yes, but these are individual cases. Robert Jarosz is open to all proposals, talks and meetings. But he presents a world of his own, original both as regards its form and interpretations. Malina Prześluga also creates personal worlds, as does Liliana Bardijewska. Marta Guśniowska cooperates closely with the theatre.

Z.R.: Robert Jarosz writes very well, but he is a theatre director. I wonder whether young authors left to their own devices would develop in this manner? No one actually knows the answer. I believe that these original personalities are worthy of being promoted: the Author's Stage, the Reading Stage, workshops and presentations at festivals held in Opole, Toruń, Poznań (Kon-teksty), Gdynia R@Port), Bydgoszcz – Festival of World Premieres), the Warsaw Small Theatrical Meetings as well as abroad: in Reims and, in Denmark, and at the festival of the art of puppetry in Bielsko-Biała – this sort of support is certainly of great help.

T.P.: True. Not only do the presented authors gain certainty that their works can be noticed, but after such promotions one of a given author's texts always finds its way into the repertoire.

K.G.: “Nowe Sztuki...”, the excellent publication issued by the Centre, reaches probably all those potentially interested in the realisation of contemporary drama. And there is such a lot to choose from…

Z.R.: Mention is due also to the Internet catalogue of contemporary plays: 470 titles, of which 150 are addressed to young people.  We are discussing Polish playwriting, but for years we have been trying to bring the reader of “Nowe Sztuki” closer to interesting texts from all over the world, i.a. Africa, the UK, Argentina, Cuba, Austria and Australia – quite a lot, including texts by Shearer, Japan – Bekkanko-Oni by Asaya Fujita, staged by the Animation Theatre, a large number of German plays, including Ulrich Hub's Be at theArk at Eight, most often produced in Poland, and such outstanding French authors as Carriere, Grumberg and Mouawad. Indubitably if they were read, and I hope that this was so, then they exerted a considerable impact on Polish contemporary playwriting. It all started with the realisation of plays by Gripari and Dorin, produced by numerous theatres.

K.G.: This interesting problem could be the theme of yet another conversation. Did such a multitude of contemporary texts not result in the vanishing of the traditional tale?

Z.R.: We do not have to fear that the tale might lose its rank since for years numerous authors have been using itsstructure into which they insert elements of the reality of the contemporary world. Take the example of Andrzej Lenartowski Koniec ferii, czyli baśn o Dobrej Wróżce (The End of the Holidays, or the Tale about the Fairy Godmother) or Baśn o Wielkim Magu (Tale about the Great Magician), Janusz Toczek's Jaś i Małgosia (Hansel and Gretel), Grzegorz Pańkowski's Dziewczynka z zapałkami (The Little Match Girl). I mention only texts addressed to adolescents; those intended for children are much more numerous.

T.P.: Liliana Bardijewska is closely connected with the tale.  Initially, her works were constrained by the canon of the classical tales, but now she writes modern tales. Her Paskuda i Maruda (Paskuda and Maruda), recently published in “Nowe Sztuki...”, refers to existing conventions and the traditional plot, albeit the prime theme has been treated in a contemporary manner: the syndromes rights of youth and old age, with all the motifs borrowed from the classic tale serving the theme. Malina Prześluga writes her fairytales by referring to the Andersen tradition but her props come from contemporary reality. Bajka o szczęściu (Tale about Happiness) by Izabela Degórska is totally contemporary, even though it borrows from the classical tale. In assorted tales and fairy tales, whose number is truly vast, the authors do not refer outright to, e.g. Little Red Riding Hood, although they do make use of archetypes.

K.G.: Polish playwriting for children and young people is experiencing numerous novelties. What sort of impact does this have upon the theatre? 

T.P.: Actually, changes are rather slow… Theatre directors adhere to their own, distinct opinions, partly artistic and partly connected with finances. Contemporary texts found it difficult to pave their way to the puppet theatre. Now, the situation is somewhat better. I believe that subjection to statistics concerning the number of spectators, the attitudes and anticipations of the audience, or parents who want to watch certain plays while avoiding others, is not enough. The most difficult challenge – in view of the fact that companies want to exist – is not to yield to such pressure.

K.G.: I would be even more inclined to mention theatres that use difficult texts – both those addressed to children and to young people – and successfully stage spectacles based on them. In 2007 Robert Jarosz's W beczce chowany (Brought up in a Barrel) had two premieres: directed by Bogusław Kierc at the Banialuka Theatre in Bielsko-Biała, and staged and directed by Janusz Ryl-Krystianowski at the Teatr Animacji in Poznań. More, both spectacles, to which the young audience reacted with great interest, were awarded at the National Contest of Staging a Contemporary Polish Play as well as the III International Festival of Contemporary Drama for Children and Youth KON-TEKSTY. The Teatr Animacji – which upon many occasions uses Competition texts – was the first to feature, with great success, Baśń o Rycerzu bez Konia (Tale about the Horseless Knight) by Marta Guśniowska.  Poznań Banialuka proposes interesting interpretations of plays by foreign authors, including Dorin's Stop! Don’t Move!, The Baj Pomorski Theatre in Toruń has been praised for its outstanding Be at the Ark at Eight by Ulrich Hub, directed by Paweł Aigner. In my opinion, theatres appreciating the importance of contemporary themes increasingly often tackle plays written for children and adolescents. Statistics kept by “Nowe Sztuki...” show that up to now almost 70 texts (including foreign ones) have been shown at world premieres.

Z.R.: Many good plays have still not been staged. I cannot conceal the fact that I was once of the opinion that sociopolitical transformations in Poland would produce numerous independent companies and private theatres; this has not taken place. It is theatres of this sort that would have been predestined to stage contemporary plays.

K.G.: We must mention how much is being done for the promotion of Polish playwriting by Alicja Morawska-Rubczak, young critic and theoretician of the children’s theatre, interested particularly in plays for the youngest.

T.P.: Texts for this group of recipients also take part in the Competition. True, they might not display workshop adroitness, are too loquacious or clever, and much too much transpires in them…

K.G.: Once again, we return to the statement made by Tadeusz Pajdała: writing for children is difficult…

T.P.: Yes. Even if the author embarks upon the question of death he is compelled to find means for establishing contact with the children, an adequate language and structure, whereas he would like to deal with the topic in a more serious manner. Paradoxically, these obstacles are the reason for the emergence of excellent plays addressed to children that are also suitable for adults. Pręcik (Rod) by Malina Prześluga about objects treated in a hospital is also a brilliant text for grown-ups who will gain a different perception of a child's death. Such a feat calls for a director capable of extracting both levels of the message. Unfortunately, spectacles of this sort present only that which is ostensibly closer to the child, an approach that diminishes the rank of the problem contained in the play.

Z.R.: People of the theatre preserve far-reaching caution and a conservative stance. They prefer to deploy well--tested aesthetics and signs.

T.P.: I perceive in these theatre-drama relations a certain staid approach of the theatre towards convention and the spectator. The occurring infantalisation of the texts denotes applying a whole gamut of realisation means. Consequently, interesting texts pertaining to essential existential issues are reduced to a more or less skilfully told story. They lack a communiqué that would cause the child not only to watch the course of the play but also to become emotionally involved in the depicted situations.

Z.R.: This is a certain alleviation of the force of expression, emotion and refection.

T.P.: We are dealing with a prevailing excess of sound, motion, music and songs. All these components comprise only a superficial approach to the sensitivity of the child. Meanwhile, authors tackle truly important matters, which a child or an adolescent embroiled in contemporaneity is forced to face. Authors do not avoid difficult family- oriented topics, relations between parents and children, domestic violence, divorce, loneliness, disabilities, illnesses, the absence of genuine authority, the feeling of being lost in the onslaught of reality – the one right next to us and the virtual variety – and a search for one's place among other people. They penetrate complex peer relations and negative embroilment, strife with God, but also friendships, devotion, and first love, often while breaking existing taboos. The choice is vast.

K.G.: In other words, playwriting for children and adolescents appears to be more interesting than its theatrical realisations?

Z.R.: The theatre has to grow up. We simply have to wait…

K.G.: At the end of our conversation I would like to ask about your personal fascinations…

T.P.: Texts by Jarosz, with their original form, are not afraid to broach realistic themes in a way that touches the very essence of a given phenomenon, as in W brzuchu Wilka, where the essence is evil. The theatre requires a communiqué that could be deciphered on a number of levels and brims with designates. The scene with the woodsmen's choir in W brzuchu Wilka evokes both Leśmian and the apostles from the Last Supper… I personally find Malina Prześluga, who borrows from assorted theatrical

forms but creates her own contemporary worlds, simply fascinating. The same is true for Liliana Bardijewska and her most recent texts. I am always interested in original styles – not merely linguistic but also objects and events – and, first and foremost, in wisdom.

Z.R.: I find the microcosms created by an author outright fascinating. I like to feel that while reading I am experiencing something unprecedented. Sometimes, having read only a few Iines of a text one immediately knows that they contain force and personality, present in creatively treated words and language. I notice fantasy, imagination, and the multiplicity of assorted associations. Sometimes, I am astounded by the perspective of the narrator-storyteller, different from the one to which we are accustomed. This is particularly true of tales by Malina Prześluga. I am fond of texts written in verse, when adroitness and associations are not so obvious. All these qualities may be found in plays by Marta Guśniowska…

T.P.: Guśniowska's dialogues are brilliant and sophisticated, and she seems to have fun with them… A propos fascinations: the new edition of the Competition includes a text about a little girl lost in a disintegrating world – a beautiful text with an extraordinary construction and emotions. One enters this world while not understanding all that it contains. Not everything is accessible, but it is exactly this feature that I find so enthralling. The author has created a world into which we are compelled to force our way.

K.G.: Our conversation demonstrates that contemporary playwrights do not merely illustrate the world but reach its very essence. This artistically transposed reality is closer to the truth and sensitivity of the young.

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